Meet the Chef Behind the “Slutty,” Delicious Cheeseburger of ‘The Menu’
Spoilers for The Menu ahead.
If you’ve seen The Menu, you’re still probably craving that cheeseburger—that mouthwatering nostalgia trip that Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) realizes is the key to getting out of the film’s dinner-from-hell alive. She stumbles upon an old clipping of chef Julian (Ralph Fiennes), who’s imprisoned his rich and vapid clientele for a tasting menu of increasingly humiliating and deadly contents, in which he’s making a cheeseburger as a young cook—a moment hearkening back to when he actually loved cooking, and why he loved doing it, long before he started plating fancy dishes for fancy people. It’s the chef he misses. And it’s the chef she has to bring back to survive.
Director Mark Mylod structures The Menu as a near-real-time dramatization of the dinner, meaning we see Fiennes et al. prepare, serve, and eat the food, course by course. Authenticity was paramount. Mylod brought chef Dominique Crenn on as a consultant to devise and design Julian’s brilliantly ridiculous menu. Then came chef John Benhase, a partner at Starland Yard in Savannah, Georgia, to consult on the authenticity of the cooking and serving. It’s his “slutty” cheeseburger recipe—the recipe suddenly on BuzzFeed, inspiring countless post-viewing burger orders, that all but oozes off the screen—that Fiennes ultimately cooked for The Menu’s delicious climax.
Vanity Fair caught up with Benhase to learn everything there is to know about that burger.
Vanity Fair: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your suddenly famous cheeseburger.
John Benhase: Who knew, right? Just a cheeseburger.
Yeah. I mean, just to start really broadly, how has it been? Have people been coming up to you? How have you gauged the reaction?
More than anything, I think seeing it in the theaters for the first time and hearing the collective moan at that part of the movie, I was like, “Oh yeah, people really like this. This is good.” But I mean, it’s just a really good cheeseburger. It’s been funny seeing it on BuzzFeed and stuff like that.
In terms of getting involved with the movie, how was this project described to you and what was your degree of involvement?
They needed a kind of culinary authenticity consultant. So my main job going into the film was to make sure all the actors and background actors and then the writers and the director had all the tools they needed to make sure that they really looked like they knew what they were doing, since the restaurant and kitchen are such an integral kind of character in itself to the film. So just making sure that every single aspect was accurate and people knew how to move correctly within the space and what they were cooking and why they were cooking it. Then the cheeseburger was a happy accident byproduct of being on set.
It was pretty random. I was sitting in Video Village with the two writers and they were talking about the burger. I’m sure that Chef Dominique could have made the most beautiful burger that anybody had ever seen, but they wanted a kind of nostalgia—for lack of a better word, the slutty burger. I probably spoke out of turn, but it was a really wonderful collaborative team, so I felt comfortable doing so and just was like, “Hey, I think if we do this burger this way, then it’ll be a perfect fit because it still is such a process-driven burger.” It’s not just slapping a couple of patties on a grill and flipping them a couple times. It can be this labor of love. That’s part of what makes it work within the film. And also, obviously Ralph Fiennes doing such an amazing job doing it. It just looks like he is having the best, most transformative time making that burger again.